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The USMNT-Mexico Gold Cup final has more than a trophy on the line

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LAS VEGAS — The Concacaf Gold Cup trophy is a big and heavy piece of hardware that stands a good bet of being the biggest trophy in any display it is a part of, but even as big a trophy as it is, the Gold Cup itself is far from the only thing on the line when the U.S. men’s national team faces Mexico on Sunday in Las Vegas.

For Mexico, the final symbolizes a chance to re-assert its dominance in the Concacaf region, and repair some of the damage done by the team’s loss to the United States in the Nations League final. Losing a second consecutive final against the United States would lead to serious questions about Tata Martino’s project, especially given Martino’s decision to bring a close to full strength squad to the competition.

The United States enters the final having already exceeded expectations as a group. No, reaching the final itself wasn’t a huge surprise, but the way Gregg Berhalter’s team has come together has made the competition a success and already helped the emergence of several young talents, which was ultimately the main goal for this team at the Gold Cup.

It is that reality that has some looking at Sunday’s final as a bonus for the USMNT, leading to the perception that the Americans have far less riding on the final, and are facing much less pressure to win it than Mexico.

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

Berhalter isn’t buying the notion his team is playing with house money.

“I think it’s a disservice to our guys. I think it’s a disservice to our team,” Berhalter said of any notion that his team has nothing to lose because it isn’t expected to win. “The guys want to win this game. We’re going to do everything we can to win this game, and if we don’t win this game, I can guarantee you we’re going to be bitterly disappointed.”

What does it mean to ‘play with house money’? Basically it’s when someone gambling at a casino has already won back their own money and are now gambling only with profits and winnings, which would be money from the casino, or ‘the house’.

In the case of the USMNT, the progress the young group has made and the talents who have emerged to state good cases for inclusion with the full-strength squad is a prize that the team will be taking home no matter what happens in Sunday’s final.

The thing about house money is that if you wind up losing it, it still stings, and you will still find yourself lamenting what was once in your grasp. The USMNT has a dream opportunity to not only win a trophy as a team, but also  restore some of the standing the U.S. team has lost in the rivalry with Mexico, which has won the past three Gold Cup finals played between them, along with its first World Cup qualifying win on American soil in two decades.

The Americans are very much the underdog on Sunday against a Mexico team expected to start seven players who were in the starting lineup for the Nations League final. The USMNT defeated El Tri, 3-2, in the dramatic Nations League final, in a result that resonated because it came in a clash of the best both nations have to offer.

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

On Sunday, there will be no Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Gio Reyna or any of the USMNT’s top European-based stars, though Mexico will feature the likes of Hector Herrera, Edson Alvarez and Jesus Corona. That reality is not lost on Mexican fans and media, which will be ready to tear into their own team if El Tri manages to lose to an inexperienced and experimental U.S. squad.

That is why the USMNT should expect Mexico to come out flying, looking to assert itself against this young American team, and if the U.S. players aren’t careful, they might suffer the same fate that the 2009 U.S. team suffered at the Gold Cup.

That year, a dozen years ago, an extremely experimental U.S. team competed in the Gold Cup due to the fact the full-strength U.S. team played in the Confederations Cup that same summer. Much like the current 2021 squad, that 2009 team went undefeated at the Gold Cup heading into the final, also posting shutouts in four of five matches.

The Americans went into the 2009 Gold Cup final as the clear underdog against a stronger, although also experimental Mexico squad, and as much as you could argue that they were also ‘playing with house money’ heading into that final, it wasn’t any less painful or embarrassing when Mexico delivered a 5-0 beating at Giants Stadium.

You could argue that result went a long way toward helping restore Mexico’s control of the series, which had been taken over by the United States after beating El Tri at the 2002 World Cup and in the 2007 Gold Cup final, as well as in three Dos-A-Cero wins in home World Cup qualifiers.

That is why Sunday’s final can’t be taken for granted by this USMNT squad, because it offers a precious opportunity to put another dent in Mexico’s grip on control in the Concacaf region. And as much as the United States seems destined to retake control as the best team in Concacaf given how many young Americans are emerging and succeeding in Europe, beating Mexico for a second trophy this summer would speed up that process considerably.

So yes, you can argue the USMNT is playing with house money on Sunday, but as so many visitors to Sin City can attest, there is a significant difference between leaving Las Vegas breaking even after being ahead, and leaving a big winner.

Comments

  1. Bello at lb, cannon at rb. Williamson, Acosta and letget in the midfield. ZArdes in the middle up top with hoppe and arriola out wide. Strong defense, and a stronger counter attack. 3-1 USA. Dike off the bench tonight could be dangerous for Mexico.

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  2. I’m glad Ives mentioned the Confederations Cup since I think this game is about as meaningful as that competition was. It’s nice to do well and looks good on your resume, but ultimately it means nothing and counts for very little. What is important is qualifying for the World Cup. Period, end of story.

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  3. The current USMNT squad is not as experimental as the author of this article is trying to make it seem. There are a number of players who have been staples in Gregg’s camps since taking over and who have a fair amount of experience at the international level. Lletget, Roldan, Zardes, Arriola, Cannon, & Yueill have all been frequent members of Gregg’s Camps. Acosta, while a more recent inclusion by Gregg, has 36 caps with the Sr. Team.
    As for young emerging players there have only been a few who’ve really elevated themselves (Turner, Robinson, Moore, & Hoppe) while a couple have thrown their names into the hat for future consideration if they continue their development (Busio & Sands).
    I don’t expect this team to beat Mexico…but I hope they can at least hold a respectable score line. It will all depend on how the game starts. If Mexico scores early I could see this US Team shredded….If they can make it into the 2nd half still 0-0 than they have a shot at frustrating Mexico to the point the Mexican fans will turn on their players.

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    • I think the article gets it right regarding the experimental element, when you consider the average of this team, but more importantly the lack of real tourney experience, so yes while there have been a few players involved in several camps the last few years it doesnt diminish the realtive youth and experimenting that is happening!

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      • Ronniet – “lack of real tourney experience” is a crutch. Very few of our player pool have “real tournament experience”, since very few of our players have been with the team long enough to have competed in International tournament play.
        Brooks & Green only ones with WC experience.
        Brooks, Pulisic, Lletget, Acosta, Arriola, & Ream only ones with WCQ experience.
        Brooks, Pulisic, & Zardes with Copa America experience.
        Brooks, Pulisic, & Ream with Gold Cup Experience.
        The current Gold Cup squad has Cannon, Acosta, Lletget, Dike, & Arriola with Nations League experience. The Only tournament we’ve been a part of since Gregg took over as Manager. So you have to look at # of CAPS players have…
        Acosta (36), Arriola (38), Cannon (21), Lletget (28), Roldan (24), Yueill (15), Zardes (61).
        Compare that to some of our 1st team starters…McKennie (24), Adams (14), Reyna (8), Dest (11), Pulisic (38)….and the GC squad actually has as much or more experience than our 1st team players. The difference is that the GC squad is not as skilled…(Yet Gregg keeps calling/using them)…as the regular first teamers. Tournament experience is not the problem, Gregg’s player selections are. Even so we’re still likely to continue to see Lletget, Acosta, and others regularly once the WCQ starts.

    • None of the guys on the Gold Cup squad would be in our first choice starting 11 today, most wouldn’t even be in the top 23. So by that measure it is experimental even if there is some experience in spots.

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    • Lost we know your just trying to lay the ground for your constant “Fire Berhalter” routine. Everytime we win it’s inspite of Berhalter when we lose it’s all Berhalter’s fault. In the semi we started 3 players who had no caps before the GC, four more who had less than 5 caps all of which were friendlies. 7 of 11 starters that’s pretty experimental and would have been more if not for Clark’s appendix. No manager would experiment more than that in a competitive match. Would we have like to see DeLaTorre, Green, Konrad, Richards, and Booth instead of Arriola, Acosta, Yueill, Lewis, and Lleget? Yes, but so would Berhalter. Concacaf made much of our roster decisions by scheduling the GC in the middle of the start of the European season. Your argument that the NL was more inexperienced is also bogus given that Reyna, Pulisic, McKennie, Adams, and Dest have tons of experience in Champions League.

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      • Razor – As much as I’d like Berhaulter fired…I know it won’t happen until after the WC. My argument about caps was in response to Ronniet’s comments about experience in “International Tournaments”, and I was pointing out that the Current squad has as much experience as our 1st Team players, which is virtually none. The fact our 1st team players have champions league experience is due to their clubs and significantly greater talent.
        You claim that Berhaulter wanted Green, Konrad, Richards, DeLaTtorre, etc… instead of Lleget, Arriola Lewis, etc… Yet time and again Berhaulter has called in the MLS players you mentioned ahead of more deserving European players. The GC is a reginal tournament on the FIFA Calendar. Gregg could have selected any player he wanted and clubs would have had to release them. The fact he chose to use MLS players almost exclusively is on Him and him alone.
        I’m tired of people (media & fans) giving Gregg a pass on his player selections and poor tactics. It builds the excuse for him using the same crap players during WCQ because they are familiar with Gregg’s system.

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